In early December, I was at my doctor’s office for an annual physical and was providing background information to a worker at the front desk.
“Date of birth?” she asked.
“Jan. 1, 1956,” I replied.
“Oh, a New Year’s baby,” she said, her voice rising slightly.
Even as a senior citizen, I’ve found a Jan. 1 birthday gets people’s attention and has its advantages. It’s guaranteed to get the year off to a good start and caps off the holiday season in style. There’s also a certain orderliness in having the calendar change to a new year and my chronological odometer roll over on the same day.
My birth came earlier than expected; my mother has told me my due date was Jan. 8. As a longtime newspaperman, I like to joke that I was meeting deadlines since the day I was born. I would later be told that a Jan. 1 birthday is among the least common, along with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as women choose not to have labor induced on those days.
Over the years, a New Year’s birthday has proven to be a good conversation starter. The most frequent questions I’ve heard are: Were you the first baby born, and what time were you born?
With an arrival of 7:50 a.m. at 9 lbs. and 3 oz., I wasn’t the first baby born that year in South Jersey. However, I did get a consolation prize. My dad and my maternal grandfather both worked at the DuPont Chambers Works plant in Pennsville, and I was the second baby born with a link to a company employee.
The Chambers Works News, the company newspaper, published a story in the Jan. 13, 1956, edition with a family portrait of my parents, sister, and me. My parents received more than $100 worth of prizes, including baby-related products and an album of family pictures, according to the story.
It only took a few years to appreciate the benefits of a New Year’s Day birthday. As a student, it was a guaranteed day off from school. With a birthday one week after Christmas, it represented a chance to ask for a present that I did not receive. On the flip side, I later came to realize my parents may have held some gifts in reserve for my birthday.
Being born on Jan. 1 has at least one measurable drawback. By not entering the world before midnight on Dec. 31, I cost my parents a deduction on their 1955 income tax return.
Decades later, I learned there is a belated payback of sorts. Under Social Security rules, people born on Jan. 1 are considered to have been in the previous year and month. In my case, that’s December 1955. Social Security follows English common law that finds that a person attains an age on the day before their birthday. That regulation shaves two months off my Full Retirement Age — down from 66 and 4 months to 66 and 2 months — and allows me to go on Medicare a month before my 65th birthday.
In this case, a (mostly) happy new year for me: the IRS taketh but Social Security giveth.